The Significance of the Spectacle and the Moon in Oscar Wilde’s Salomé

It is evident that sexual imagery and voyeurism is a huge underlying theme in Oscar Wilde’s famous play Salomé, along with the moon serving as a strong symbol. This is established almost immediately, with the opening scene of the play portraying the young Syrian commenting on how beautiful Salomé is, an example of the “male as sexual spectator” archetype. Sexual desire and the act of “looking” is closely linked to death here; we consider the three most prominent examples of the young Syrian, King Herod, and Salomé herself. Looking at Salomé brings death for the Syrian, just as Salomé’s visual fixation on the prophet brings death to him, and Herod’s incestuous gaze on Salomé brings death to her. If we look closely at the opening of the play, the Page mentions something about the moon: “She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. You would fancy she was looking for dead things”, which almost exactly parallels the young Syrian’s remark “You would fancy [Salomé] was dancing”. This further links Salomé, or more specifically, her dance, to the moon and death, which is a foreshadowing of what is to come.

The idea of the spectacle is also exemplified in Herod’s incestuous gaze upon Salomé.  His gaze, called “[that of a] mole’s eyes under his shaking eyelids” by Salomé, is not only incestuous and just plain wrong, it is a bad omen. Further parallels between the moon and Salomé are established when Herod first catches a glimpse of Salomé:

“Herodias: ‘You must not look at [Salomé]! You are always looking at her!’

Herod: ‘The moon has a strange look to-night. Has she not a strange look? She is like a madwoman…she is quite naked’.”

If Herod had not mentioned the word “moon”, it would have been unclear who or what he was talking about, the moon or Salomé. This further establishes the connection between Salomé and the moon, which continues on for the rest of the play; as Salome’s pale innocence dies away with her dance, the moon’s white color does as well and it turns bright red.  When Herod’s gaze upon Salomé brings upon the death of the prophet, he guiltily reacts by making further gaze impossible—“I will not look at things, I will not suffer things to look at me…Hide the moon!” And it is only when the ever-important moon beam shines on Salomé, revealing her, that he commands that she be killed. -MG




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Filed under Week 8 reviews: Wilde's journalism, Wilde's Salome

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